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Documenting 100 Years of Extension at WVU

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 22nd, 2014

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Digital Projects and Outreach Archivist.


This week researchers and educators are gathering at West Virginia University to celebrate 100 years of cooperative extension at the Century Beyond the Campus: Past, Present, and Future of Extension research symposium.  Agricultural education has always been a fundamental part of West Virginia University’s mission and the holdings at the West Virginia and Regional History Center (WVRHC) reflect this commitment.  Extension program records, county agent reports, faculty files, as well as photographs and serial publications document the rich history of extension at WVU. 


As a land-grant institution under the first Morrill Act, WVU was charged to teach practical agriculture, military science, and the mechanical arts in addition to classical studies.


Woodburn Circle, West Virginia University

Woodburn Circle and the WVU Campus in the 1880s. Photo from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.



In 1887, the Hatch Act expanded agricultural research at land-grants through the creation of agricultural experiment stations.


Tending to Crops near the Agricultural Experiment Station Building, West Virginia University

Growing tobacco for a research project in front of the Agricultural Experiment Station building.  The Station sat where Oglebay Hall stands today.  Photo from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.



The Smith-Lever Act established the Cooperative Extension System to bring agricultural and domestic science research to farmers and families. WVU significantly expanded its agricultural extension efforts after the passage of the act in 1914.  County agents formed the backbone of extension work.  The agents’ annual reports (A&M No. 539, 729, 829, 1057, 1166, 1318, 1432, 1473) provide narrative accounts, plans of work, and statistical information.  They offer a glimpse of extension activities from their beginning up through the late 1980s.


Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; County Extension Agent Visits Family

A county agent visits a family.  Undated USDA Photograph.



Home demonstration geared towards women was another important aspect of the growth of extension.   Farm Women’s clubs, later called Home Demonstration clubs and Extension Homemaker clubs, now Community and Educational Outreach Service (CEOS) Clubs, became an important way to share new information on advances in home economics.


Cover of an information booklet for Pendleton County Farm Women’s Clubs

Cover of an information booklet for Pendleton County Farm Women’s Clubs from A&M 3479. The booklet includes lists of all Pendleton County clubs and their members.  It also contains meeting structure and themes for the year.



The Clubs carried out lessons provided by the Extension service.  These lessons ranged from food preservation to modernizing kitchens to welcoming returning veterans.  The variety of topics related to the home, community, and nation.


Easton-Avery Farm Women’s Club  Minutes

According to this January 16, 1946 entry in the minutes, the Easton-Avery Farm Women’s Club (A&M 1817) had recently gained nine new members.   Goals for the year would benefit the entire community.



Ellis Studio, Weston, W. Va.; Portrait of Women in Mattress Making Program

In 1940, extension women’s clubs participated in a mattress making program to benefit low-income families.  Photo from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.



A separate extension system existed for African-Americans during the segregation era until 1954 when WVU assumed the land-grant status that had previously been granted to West Virginia State College (now WV State University, the school was founded in 1890 as a black land-grant college.)


4-H Home Makers Judging Canned Food, Kanawha County, W. Va.

Kanawha County Homemaker’s hold a canned goods contest circa 1951.  Photo from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.



Extension efforts also targeted youth in West Virginia.  Boys and girls clubs that focused on corn and canning sprang up in the early twentieth century.  After Smith-Lever, extension agents worked locally to develop these groups.  By 1918, West Virginia clubs identified themselves using the 4-H logo and name.


Four-H Development, State 4-H Camp, Jackson's Mill, Lewis County, W. Va.

4-H promotional piece from 1925.  Photo from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.



In 1921, Jackson’s Mill, the childhood home of Stonewall Jackson in Lewis County, became the first state 4-H camp in America.


Bird's Eye View of State 4H Camp, Jackson's Mill; Between Weston and Clarksburg, W. Va.

Postcard of Jackson’s Mill State 4-H Camp circa 1941. Photograph from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.



Local clubs and county camps formed across the state and became an important part of youth development in West Virginia.  Numerous photos in the West Virginia and Regional History Center’s WV History OnView photographs database illustrate the activities of 4-H members in pursuit of their motto, “Make the best better.”


Learning Better Grooming and Shampooing at Boy's State 4-H Camp, Jackson's Mill, W. Va.

Boys learn better grooming and shampooing at Jackson’s Mill in 1936. Photo from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.



Three Male African-American 4-H Members with Birdhouses, Kanawha County, W. Va.

Birdhouse building project of a Kanawha County 4-H club in 1950. Photo from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.



4-H Group with Canned Foods and Vegetables, Summers County, W. Va.

Summers County 4-H Club with canned vegetables circa 1941.  Photograph from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.



4-H Girl with Cottage Cheese Exhibit, Harrison County, W. Va.

First place winner in the Dairy Foods Demonstration contest, Harrison County, 1949. Photo from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.



In addition to the photographs, several manuscript collections (A&M No. 1153, 2189, 2286, 3534) document 4-H activities and programs.


A host of historical materials relating to extension are preserved at the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  For unpublished works, search the A&M Guide.  A select list of extension related manuscript collections is available for download.  Books and published serials can be found by searching the library catalog.  Bulletins and other miscellaneous materials are located in the Printed Ephemera Collection.



4-H, “The Birth of 4-H Programs.”

Frame, Nat, Agricultural and Rural Life in West Virginia. Inwood, W.Va. : U.S.D.A. Bureau of Agricultural Economics, [between 1940-1948]

Meador, Margaret, “Extension Homemaker Clubs.”

Meador, Michael M, “4-H.”

USDA, “About Us.”

Washington State University Extension, “What is a Land Grant College?”


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